Checklists for Checkpoints

Informal checkpoint Iraq 2016

As we travel around the world we go through multiple checkpoints. The main travel tip is to get well prepared and remember that every boarder official we encounter has a job to do. Lets aim to move through these areas smoothly and get on with our journey.

Currently working providing medical aid in Iraq and travelling regularly both domestically and internationally I go through military or police checkpoints on an almost daily basis, the points listed below are utilised every time I travel. In many ways I am glad there are check points providing some layer of security, but I know much of the responsibility still sits with me. This article is in no way to encourage you to travel here, but the lessons learnt here have much wider application because if they work in a war zone there is good chance they will assist you travelling in more friendly areas.

Yet is it hard to get totally confident when you see some of the staff manning these posts where ever in the world you are, many are sharp operators and then there are plenty of others. Never the less with the state of play today it is part of the everyday landscape in all airport precincts, industrial zones and state boundaries.

These checkpoints have the potential to cause serious issues from both disruptions to your travel plans, because you never know how long it will take, you don’t know who is in front of you and their story. Therefore there is the chance, of missed connections, risk of being returned back over the boarder and in some areas there is an increased risk of injury.

By their very nature, checkpoints they are a choke point, a situation where physical and visual views are restricted, consequently there are often limited personal response opportunities when threats arise. Often these zones are often targeted by rival political or military groups and it is in our best interest to pass through them as quickly as possible and without any hassles. Below are a few tried and tested points that I always implement to help me pass through as smoothly as possible.

I get organised. Passport Tickets visa, photos, all done months before transiting. Keep hard copies of all documentation in a separate place in case officials retain your passport for some reason or they are lost or stolen. It is also useful to photograph documents and email them to your self and a trusted person so you can access them anywhere in case of a need.

On the road I get all paper work done before engaging with the security staff. Get the forms, fill them out in the plane, or at a desk where you can write clearly. If there are any mistakes, rectify them on a new sheet.

I am always polite. The officials expect to be respected and if they feel that you are not giving them the respect they deserve, they can make your trip much more complicated, return you home or worse.

I remove my hat, glasses, hoodie, headphones etc. This goes together with being polite, and is especially true if they are checking your ID, they will ask you to remove them anyway, might as get prepared.

I have my ID ready and if I am entering an airport also my ticket. I am always trying to pass through the checkpoint as quickly as possible to minimize my time in this zone, and rummaging through your bag is not only uncool, it will only delay you and annoy the officials and the others behind you.

I use a greeting in their language. Even if it is just hello, thank you and goodbye, using the local language is always appreciated. It shows interest, respect and a willingness to reach out.

I follow their instructions. Quite often they will ask to check your bags, or pat you down, take finger prints, try and remember that generally this is for official processing and your own safety. Arguing will get you nowhere and will only annoy them and delay you and it will happen if you want to proceed through the control point.

I never take photos. Most checkpoints have signs that say this but even if they do not, we strongly advise against taking photos, especially where military people are involved, this is a good way to get your phone or camera taken or at times a lot worse.

Last but certainly not least, be ‘human’, be neutral or better, SMILE, the officials are there doing their job, often standing out in the cold, heat, for hours on end and a friendly face goes a long way.

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